On 9/11, I was about 9 years old. I was in Year 4 in school, in Iran. I was born in Iran, although I am a Hazara Afghan. My parents fled to Iran in the 1980s as refugees from Afghanistan, during the Soviet-Afghan War.
This was the previous chapter to the current conflict that’s still happening there. But at that time, the Afghan communist government was trying to conscript men to fight against the mujahideen (Islamic guerrilla fighters) in their war. My father didn’t want to fight, and didn’t want to participate in any war because most of the victims wind up being innocent people. At first, my parents just tried to get out of Kabul. They thought life outside Kabul would be easier, so they fled to a small village outside Ghazni.
But eventually, there were mujahideen who were becoming active in Ghazni. They also wanted men to fight, but in the war against Russia and the Afghan government. There were also different factions, and competing groups of mujahideens. It was also so complicated and terrifying. Adding to that is that my father is Hazara, and the Hazara have always been persecuted in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Basically, my father was threatened, and told to pick a side, in a ‘you’re with us, or you’re against us’ manner. He was told that if he did not join them, he too was their enemy. It was made clear through threats that he would be killed if he didn’t join a particular movement. There was no way to join a ‘right’ group without angering another, and this indicated the start of civil war in Afghanistan. My father knew that, even if they collapsed the Soviet Union, infighting will continue. My father started to protest with some of his friends: “free people”. At that time, the Afghan people just wanted freedom, without occupation of any foreigner. So many countries – like Iran, America, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan – brought different groups of mujaheddin into Afghanistan to get rid of Russia, and to give demonstrative freedom. But they fooled the Afghan people. They knew majority of Afghan people are Muslim and they made religion a weapon to reach their goals.
Mujaheedin were much active in countryside because they knew most people there are not educated, and they could easily fool them to change them from ‘normal’ Muslim people to extremist Muslim. People that were peacefully living together for generations were now fighting against each other, because now they belong to different groups, and each thinks the other groups are their enemy.
So, with my two older siblings who were ages one and three months (I was still not born at this time), my parents fled to Iran where I was born a few years later. According to United Nations, since the 1980s, over five million Afghanis have been displaced, and over 90% have fled to Iran or Pakistan. We are part of that number.
Even in Iran, we were still of course seen as outsiders, but at least my father and our family was not being threatened. But we could not go back to Afghanistan to visit or to see family. So it was still hard but in other ways. Life for refugees brings its own set of complications.
When the events of 9/11 happened, I remember feeling confused, but also very sad, seeing the people in the USA who were being killed in the footage from the day. You couldn’t get away from it on the news. But I don’t have a lot of distinct memories from the day, other than that. I was thinking that Afghan people would be the victims again and I was right.
But in the time that followed, I remember feeling confusion. And scared, like the world was ending. After the events of 9/11, every day in Iran on television, they were talking about Afghanistan. They were showing Afghanistan as poor and unsafe country on the TV, and yet at the same time they wanted us to go back. I was feeling unsupported from Iranian government. Some Iranian people starting yelling at us, “Oye, Afgan, go back to your country! Here is not Palestine!” We were discriminated against a lot in Iran. Most of the time when I was alone at that time, I wound up crying. Why didn’t they treat us like other children? Why I am different?
The Iranian government was running advertising campaigns, saying that it would now be safe to return to Afghanistan, now that the Americans were there. The American troops would take care of the Taliban, and Afghans could return. At the same time, people were chanting slogans like, “Down With U.S.A!” But that just made me feel confused. And I was born in Iran, after all. But now it seemed like they were just trying to get rid of us. I was angry and hurt, and I didn’t feel like they were being fair to us. Iran was, after all, the only country I knew. But now we were no longer important or we became too important, because they wanted to plan for our exile.
About two years after 9/11, the Iranian government decided to not enrol any Afghan student in school any more. I feel I couldn’t reach my goals, and I couldn’t be an educated girl. My father always was telling me education is a power, and I felt that I am no longer powerful. My parents – especially my father – were so sad. We decided to leave Iran and go to another country. But we couldn’t leave. We were refugees that cannot leave Iran, and yet we didn’t have a good future in Iran. We were like prisoners. The UN was not helping during that time, and Iran was still recommending us to go back to Afghanistan. But we couldn’t go back.
After that we went to study at somebody’s home that was trained as a teacher. Most of the Afghan students during those years were studying in a self-regulating school at home. After one year the government decided to allow Afghan students in schools again, but now they want us to pay money – a lot of money for a family with four students.
Now, as an adult years later, I do wonder about so many things. Did the USA and Taliban do this on purpose as an excuse to come in to Afghanistan? And why? But no one will ever truly know what happened. Although I was able to eventually get to Australia, I still have family in both Iran and Afghanistan. I worry about them. My mother and younger brother are still in Iran. My parents were never able to return to Afghanistan.
All these years later and we still don’t know what the future holds for Afghanistan. It is a country with so much sadness in its history. I just want it to experience some lasting peace. I am worry about women and girls in Afghanistan. they don’t know what is going to happen to them.